March 21, 2007
TALLAHASSEE With a second-round NIT victory over Michigan, Florida State moved to 22-12 on the season. That's the most victories the program has had since the 1993 team advanced to the NCAA's Elite Eight.
Unlike a year ago, when the Seminoles were left out of the NCAA Tournament after finishing 9-7 in the ACC, fifth-year coach Leonard Hamilton did not bemoan his second consecutive snub.
"It's easy for me to voice all my frustrations at the committee and point to other teams that got in," Hamilton said. "But I realize it's all on us and what we do if we want to make the NCAA Tournament.
"We can't rely on the committee and the strength of schedule and the strength of our league. We have to put it in a position that there are no doubts we belong. We've got to find a way to put ourselves on the other side."
That was the message Hamilton delivered to his team after failing to make the Big Dance for the ninth consecutive season. That ties Clemson for the longest active drought among ACC schools.
Between an opening-round NIT rout of Toledo and a second-round drubbing of Michigan in what proved to be former Duke star Tommy Amaker's final game with the Wolverines Hamilton and his staff were on the road recruiting. The Seminoles still have two scholarships left for 2007-08, and it seems likely that they will try to address the need for a scorer, either from the junior college ranks or possibly abroad, before next season.
As for their immediate charge?
"We are challenging them to put the onus on ourselves now," Hamilton said. "We are in this tournament. Let's go out and show what we are about as individuals, so that we can bounce back from some adversity and play very good basketball."
A third-round date at Mississippi State, one of four No. 1 seeds in the 32-team field, separated the Seminoles from a trip to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden.
"It's important to keep (seniors Al Thornton and Jerel Allen) playing," junior guard Isaiah Swann said. "It is important to leave a good legacy for them, to be known as a team that won an NIT championship. ... This is their team. They won't be here next year."
Swann very easily could have been speaking of the position he hopes the Seminoles won't be in again as well.
NEW-LOOK GRID STAFF DEBUTS
The long-anticipated start of spring football practice arrived with coach Bobby Bowden sending five new assistants onto the field, marking the greatest staff turnover in his 32 seasons at FSU.
With new offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher setting the tempo, the Seminoles moved at a noticeably sharper clip through their first workouts.
"I like a fast tempo," Fisher said. "I like to get reps. I like to burn it, and I like them to give effort and to get them in a habit of playing fast and playing hard. If you don't practice tough, you aren't going to play tough."
With 15 days to install a new system, Fisher isn't going to waste any time bringing his group aided by fellow first-year assistants Rick Trickett (offensive line), Lawrence Dawsey (receivers) and Dexter Carter (running backs) up to speed.
"If you wait and wait and wait until they're ready for something, you never get to it," Fisher said. "I believe in throwing it all at them at once give it to them and see what they can handle then as you go back to the second part of spring, you start repeating it in more detail and they'll pick it up even more. Then you're into the whole thing again."
While much of the fans' attention is focused on the quarterback battle between Drew Weatherford and Xavier Lee, Fisher said he's equally anxious to find go-to players at tailback and wide receiver. More to the point, those positions won't matter if Trickett doesn't shape up a line that spent the offseason paring pounds with runs at dawn and getting stronger in the weight room.
"You're developing a consistency in finding five guys with quality backups to play with consistency and toughness," Fisher said. "If they can't do it, it's hard for the skill guys to even function."
Out of necessity, the assistant coaches wrangled up an initial spring depth chart, though it may as well have been written in pencil. Among the position battles worth watching are:
Quarterback Weatherford, the incumbent, is listed first, but Lee is getting equal reps with the first unit, which for the first time in years will do most of its scrimmage work against the first-team defense in order to provide a better barometer.
Freshman Christian Ponder is getting ample work with the second unit, but classmate D'Vontrey Richardson will see only limited action while he continues to anchor the center field position on FSU's baseball team.
Receiver Dawsey is determined to find out whom he can count on as every-down blockers. With a renewed emphasis on improving a dismal running game, knocking defenders back is equally as important as running precise routes and hanging onto the football.
Veterans Greg Carr and De'Cody Fagg are the only proven commodities, but the return of Rod Owens from ACL surgery and the development of youngsters Damon McDaniel and Preston Parker merit attention.
Tailback Most everyone expects Antone Smith to ascend to the top spot, and his offseason work has been impeccable by all accounts. Still, there isn't a backup with more than a handful of career carries to push the rising junior.
Third-year freshman Russell Ball, back from two ACL surgeries, sophomore Marcus Sims and junior Jamaal Edwards will fight it out to determine the pecking order.
"I think they're hungry, and I think they're willing to learn and willing to listen," said Fisher, who was impressed with the effort shown throughout the offseason conditioning program. "We made a lot of improvement during those drills, and we pushed a lot of those kids hard."
The paucity of proven playmakers aside, Fisher isn't about to panic as he continues to evaluate the returnees from last season's 7-6 squad.
"I think there are questions everywhere," he said. "I think there are answers there. I think there's talent there with answers."
BOWDEN ON RECRUITING, BASEBALL
In an effort to get his program's recruiting up to speed on the national level, Bowden hired Bob LaCivita away from Florida to become FSU's director of player personnel.
"We have been way behind in that area," Bowden said. "We are gradually catching up some lost ground, where some other people have gotten way ahead of us. Bob will be good. The first time I met Bob he was with Terry (Bowden) up at Auburn, and then of course he and (director of football operations) Andy Urbanic worked together at Akron. It's good to have him with us."
Less than a month into his position, LaCivita already had planned FSU's first formal junior day.
Prior to his arrival at rival UF, LaCivita worked at N.C. State with Chuck Amato, who is back on the field in Tallahassee this spring as the Seminoles' linebackers coach.
Meanwhile, Bowden explained his position on allowing Richardson to remain with Mike Martin's baseball team, where Richardson is hitting better than .450 and starting in center field.
"He is going to practice with us as much as he can, but we are going to give baseball preference," Bowden said. "If he wasn't doing any good (in baseball), I would have him right back over here. I have always felt like if a guy can help another spot if he can really help them then we will excuse him."